"I'm going back," Sev said abruptly, as the others hustled through the forest.

"What for?" demanded Avery, wide-eyed with disbelief and terror.

"To make sure he's dead!" Well, that was nothing but the truth. "And to raise the Dark Mark. If you're making a statement, you need everyone to see it."

Avery looked uncertain. "Lucius-"

"Is half a second away from being dead on his feet. Get him back to the dorms before he collapses and you have to carry him," Sev ordered. "I'm going back." He left before anybody could question his assumption of command.

Sev barrelled through the trees and skidded back to the side of the fallen Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher. A moment later, Malachite's eyes flickered open. "You came back," he said, with difficulty. "I thought you would."

"You're not dead." Even Snape could probably be forgiven for stating the obvious, considering all that had transpired.

"I will be." Malachite closed his eyes for a moment, even that small movement seeming to pain him. "I'm just dying in two planes of existence at once, and that's going to take some time."

"I heard the Naga are supposed to be semi-divine," Sev said. He didn't try to help his teacher up or make him comfortable. There didn't seem to be a whole lot he could do.

"More or less." Malachite smiled awkwardly. "I'm tending towards the less end of the spectrum, under the circumstances. There are-" he winced, "-there are very, very few things in this world that can kill one of us. Unfortunately, I do believe that was one of them."

"I'm told that times like these are bad for saying I told you so."

Malachite spat out a fragment of a chuckle. "I see your people skills are as good as ever."

"Malfoy was more dangerous than you thought."

"Yes... more dangerous than any of us thought." He closed his eyes for long enough for Snape to wonder if he was going. "Good fight, though," he said, with a sudden bright smile. "I had fun."

"Well, that's good to know," said Sev sardonically.

Malachite just looked at him. "I assume they sent you back to make sure I was dead?"

"I sent myself, actually, but pretty much. Malfoy's half dead from the duel."

"I'll bet he is. Pity he's not all dead. Ha! Should've written that on his student report before I came out here. Missed opportunity." He focused on Sev with some difficulty. "Severus...? You're still here? I thought you were... wait..." He gritted his teeth and somehow managed to pull himself back together. His lips were beginning to turn blue, and Sev chose to assume he was too numb by now to be feeling much pain at all.

Sev found this gradual fading away even more chilling than the thought of a violent and painful death. The thought of his mind, the only thing about him that meant anything, gradually bleeding away... He hid his wince behind the usual quiet mask.

"Malfoy," said Malachite, finding his way back to the thread of the conversation. "You were right. I thought he'd... spent it all when he called... for help, but he was holding that... in reserve..."

"Voldemort's been grooming him," Sev reminded him softly.

"Even so, I didn't... I should have..." His eyes were losing their focus again, and suddenly he gripped Snape by the arm. "Defence... Against... the Dark Arts. Need someone..."

Sev shook his head slowly. "You won't get anybody volunteering for that job," he pointed out quietly. "Not after..." He couldn't figure out how to finish that sentence, and should he read something into that, or should he read something into the fact that even here, even now, he wasn't reacting but analysing his own reactions?

"I know," Malachite grated. "After... They'll forget, they'll think it's safe... Somebody who knows..."

"Me?" Sev realised, genuinely surprised.


"I can't be a spy and a defender."

"Then... do one at a time. But... one day, choose... Draw a line and... just..."

"I will," said Sev quietly. "When this is over, I'll come back and protect Hogwarts for you. Someone's got to, and hell, everyone else around here is too stupid."

Malachite found his last reserve of strength and struggled to look him in the eye. "How do I... know... you're not... lying to... lying to... comfort a d-dying man?"

"Because I'm me," he said simply.

"Yes. Yes, you are."

Malachite started to laugh, and somewhere in the laughter he closed his eyes and didn't open them again.

Sev sat back on his heels for a long moment. He kept waiting for the paralysing grief or guilt or whatever he was supposed to feel to come crashing down, and it just didn't. His brain continued ticking. He felt angry and he felt melancholy and he felt frustrated that he hadn't stopped this and... that was it. He just felt it. It didn't take him over, didn't crush him up, didn't motivate him to jump up and curse the gods or fate or whatever else. It was just there. There were his emotions and his logic, and his logic wasn't going anywhere.

After a moment, he stood up. Then he raised the Dark Mark and left the scene before anyone could find him there.

Because he was himself, and that was all he knew how to be.

There was a funeral; Sev didn't go. Lily did, and he saw her coming back afterwards, sniffing back tears with James Potter's arm around her. James himself was dry-eyed, but firm-jawed and solemn; Malachite had been no friend to him, but he hadn't been an enemy either, and James Potter's hatred of the Death Eaters burned with a white hot flame.

Sev avoided Lily, then and in the days that followed. He wasn't sure they would have had anything to say to each other. Malachite's death had been unavoidable, perhaps even necessary - but he couldn't say as much to Lily, and he couldn't pretend that he knew how to be emotionally devastated. His brain worked the way that it did; it wasn't something he could switch on and off.

His brain was telling him that now was the very worst time to betray any inkling of doubt or weakness. The young Death Eaters had crossed the line, but the actions that had brought them there had been solely Malfoy's. If anybody was going to cut and run, now would be the time, and he had to be above suspicion.

So he stayed away from Lily and he stayed away from Dumbledore, and for the few remaining weeks of school he stuck close to Malfoy and acted as he would be expected to.

Malfoy himself, once he had recovered from the exhaustion of a full-on magical battle, had regained his smirk and swagger, only magnified. The gap between his public and his private persona had grown huge, as he flipped between sorrowful student and triumphant enemy general.

The ripples of shock that had been sent through the school were earth-shattering. The disappearances, the attack on Josh Matthews, even the discovery of Professor Cephus's body were nothing on the effects of a well-known and well-respected teacher being killed on campus, in the middle of the night. The sparkling death's head Sev had cast had remained hanging over the forest until halfway through the following day when Dumbledore had been located and urged to come home.

The NEWTs and OWLs had gone on, although all the other end-of-year exams had been cancelled. Most of the student body, including some of those who were supposed to be taking those qualifications, had fled the school. Come the following year, Sev very much doubted the vast majority of them would be back.

The final graduation ceremony, usually an uproarious celebration before governors, students and their extended families, was performed to a sadly depleted stock of seventh-years and their petrified-looking parents. Nonetheless, Dumbledore gamely stood up to give the traditional speech.

His blue eyes were dark with gravity as he fixed every individual in the hall with his gaze, as if trying to transfer his passion and belief to them. He spoke of trial and tragedy, of the shock of the death of Malachite and how he believed they could overcome the darkness if they worked together. His speech that year was probably the first one ever given that dared to address the Death Eaters full on, and even voice that name that sent a shudder of terror through the hall: Lord Voldemort.

Sev sat in the back with the rest of the seventh year Death Eaters, several rows of empty chairs between them and the others. Such was the power of Dumbledore's voice that none of them even tried to mock him, they just watched with a kind of steely resignation. They all knew it was too late to change the decision they'd made, whatever the consequences.

Dumbledore spoke on and on, filling his audience with fire and determination. But the five of them weren't part of that audience, not even Snape. It wasn't his place to stand tall and defy the darkness, but rather to infiltrate it and turn it against itself. He was as much as soldier of the light as anybody in the room, more so - but most likely none of them would never know it.

Lily and James stood to either side of Dumbledore on the stage; head boy and head girl, standing by their headmaster. Lily caught his eye only once during the proceedings, and her face was as studiously blank as his own had ever been. He couldn't tell if she blamed him for what had happened to Malachite or not, and maybe it was better that he didn't know.

Finally, beside him, Malfoy pushed to his feet. "Enough of this sugary tripe," he hissed darkly. "We're done with this place. It's time to go." Nick, Colin and Simon got up to follow him.

Up on the stage, Dumbledore was still speaking. "...and I wish good luck, good health, and good faith, to all who have walked the corridors of this school... wherever their lives may take them."

His gaze swept across the room, and locked for a fraction of a second with Snape's. Sev nodded very, very slightly in reply.

Then he stood up, and followed Malfoy out of the room.